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Can parental choice support the right to education? Evidence from low-fee private schools in Kenya

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Abstract:

Although Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantees, along with universal and equitable access, that “parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children,” the issue of choice framed from a rights- based perspective is highly complex. While parental choice between public and private schools in the developed world has been a long debated and much researched issue (Ball, Bowe and Gewirtz, 1994;1995; Levin, 1991; Schneider and Coleman, 1993; Walford, 1996), much less has been written on the motivations behind parental choice in developing country contexts.

Recently, the rapid expansion of what has been termed “low-fee” or “low-cost” private schools catering to the needs of low-income families has added an additional layer of complexity to this debate. For instance, many of these low-fee private schools, which are run by faith-based organizations, non-governmental and community-based organizations, as well as individual entrepreneurs, do not cater to the elite upper classes, but instead to very poor populations. Concomitantly, pressure to meet the mandates of international agendas such as the Education for All (EFA) and Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) have seen national governments in several developing countries expand access to the public school system with the introduction of free primary education. Yet despite these government efforts, school choice initiatives continue to be advocated by a variety of actors, at both national and global levels (Patrinos, et al, 2009), and more pupils continue to be enrolled in these low-fee private schools compared to the state provided alternative.

Several research studies point out that poor parents are choosing private schools because of shortcomings within the public school system, which include large pupil-teacher ratios in classrooms, declining quality of teaching, and deteriorating standards of education (Tooley, 2006; Kingdon, 2005: Jimenez and Lockheed, 2000; Andrabi, 2002). Coupled with the notion then that choice and competition can improve the quality of education, advocates for privatization continue to push for further marketization of education . However, the debate on the role and function of these types of private schools in meeting national and global educational goals in developing countries is sharply divided. Proponents, including policy-makers and researchers view private schools and school choice initiatives as instrumental to meeting the goals of EFA and MDGs (Tooley and Dixon, 2003; Tooley, 2009). Many others on the other hand would disagree with such a stance and argue that private education is inherently contradictory to the notion of education as a human right and exacerbates inequalities (Rose, 2007: Srivastava 2008) while yet others note that parental choice is an integral component of a rights-based approach to education.

In this paper we examine some of these paradoxes around education as a human right and privatization. Interestingly, we support both sides of this argument. In it, we aim to address the fact that too little is known about why and how economically disadvantaged parents choose low-fee private schools over public schools. In doing so we seek to present a more nuanced understanding of parental decision-making around low-fee private schools. Based on a survey of 209 parents in the Kibera slum in Kenya involving 5 target schools (one public and four low-fee private) we delineate some of the motivations around parental decision-making in this context. Using purposive sampling, households with at least one child enrolled in Class 6 or 7 in each of the target schools were identified for the survey. Face-to-face surveys were then carried out with parents or caregivers to gather information on why they choose private schools over free public schools, as well as how they made the selection of private school. This study demonstrates that decision-making around schools is a complex process where parents are not necessarily always able to fully exercise their right to choose. Constrained by socio- economic variables, and Institutional forces, in many cases parental choice is a questionable right. We frame these findings conceptually around the complex notion of education as a human right, by demonstrating that there are ways in which parental choice to pay for education does, and at the same time does not, support a rights-based approach to education.

This study makes a useful contribution to the field of comparative and international education by filling an important gap in our understanding of the economic and the non-economic aspirations that guide parental school decisions in developing countries. And at the same time this paper provides evidence that might support competing positions in the heated broader debate on public versus private education.
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Association:
Name: Comparative and International Education Society Annual Conference
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http://www.cies.us


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URL: http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p708697_index.html
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MLA Citation:

Sivasubramaniam, Malini. and Menashy, Francine. "Can parental choice support the right to education? Evidence from low-fee private schools in Kenya" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Comparative and International Education Society Annual Conference, Sheraton Centre Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, Mar 10, 2014 <Not Available>. 2014-12-10 <http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p708697_index.html>

APA Citation:

Sivasubramaniam, M. and Menashy, F. , 2014-03-10 "Can parental choice support the right to education? Evidence from low-fee private schools in Kenya" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Comparative and International Education Society Annual Conference, Sheraton Centre Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada <Not Available>. 2014-12-10 from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p708697_index.html

Publication Type: Conference Paper/Unpublished Manuscript
Review Method: Peer Reviewed
Abstract: Although Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantees, along with universal and equitable access, that “parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children,” the issue of choice framed from a rights- based perspective is highly complex. While parental choice between public and private schools in the developed world has been a long debated and much researched issue (Ball, Bowe and Gewirtz, 1994;1995; Levin, 1991; Schneider and Coleman, 1993; Walford, 1996), much less has been written on the motivations behind parental choice in developing country contexts.

Recently, the rapid expansion of what has been termed “low-fee” or “low-cost” private schools catering to the needs of low-income families has added an additional layer of complexity to this debate. For instance, many of these low-fee private schools, which are run by faith-based organizations, non-governmental and community-based organizations, as well as individual entrepreneurs, do not cater to the elite upper classes, but instead to very poor populations. Concomitantly, pressure to meet the mandates of international agendas such as the Education for All (EFA) and Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) have seen national governments in several developing countries expand access to the public school system with the introduction of free primary education. Yet despite these government efforts, school choice initiatives continue to be advocated by a variety of actors, at both national and global levels (Patrinos, et al, 2009), and more pupils continue to be enrolled in these low-fee private schools compared to the state provided alternative.

Several research studies point out that poor parents are choosing private schools because of shortcomings within the public school system, which include large pupil-teacher ratios in classrooms, declining quality of teaching, and deteriorating standards of education (Tooley, 2006; Kingdon, 2005: Jimenez and Lockheed, 2000; Andrabi, 2002). Coupled with the notion then that choice and competition can improve the quality of education, advocates for privatization continue to push for further marketization of education . However, the debate on the role and function of these types of private schools in meeting national and global educational goals in developing countries is sharply divided. Proponents, including policy-makers and researchers view private schools and school choice initiatives as instrumental to meeting the goals of EFA and MDGs (Tooley and Dixon, 2003; Tooley, 2009). Many others on the other hand would disagree with such a stance and argue that private education is inherently contradictory to the notion of education as a human right and exacerbates inequalities (Rose, 2007: Srivastava 2008) while yet others note that parental choice is an integral component of a rights-based approach to education.

In this paper we examine some of these paradoxes around education as a human right and privatization. Interestingly, we support both sides of this argument. In it, we aim to address the fact that too little is known about why and how economically disadvantaged parents choose low-fee private schools over public schools. In doing so we seek to present a more nuanced understanding of parental decision-making around low-fee private schools. Based on a survey of 209 parents in the Kibera slum in Kenya involving 5 target schools (one public and four low-fee private) we delineate some of the motivations around parental decision-making in this context. Using purposive sampling, households with at least one child enrolled in Class 6 or 7 in each of the target schools were identified for the survey. Face-to-face surveys were then carried out with parents or caregivers to gather information on why they choose private schools over free public schools, as well as how they made the selection of private school. This study demonstrates that decision-making around schools is a complex process where parents are not necessarily always able to fully exercise their right to choose. Constrained by socio- economic variables, and Institutional forces, in many cases parental choice is a questionable right. We frame these findings conceptually around the complex notion of education as a human right, by demonstrating that there are ways in which parental choice to pay for education does, and at the same time does not, support a rights-based approach to education.

This study makes a useful contribution to the field of comparative and international education by filling an important gap in our understanding of the economic and the non-economic aspirations that guide parental school decisions in developing countries. And at the same time this paper provides evidence that might support competing positions in the heated broader debate on public versus private education.


Similar Titles:
Are parents making informed choices? Comparing pupil achievement between private informal schools and government free public school in Kenya

School Choice, Education Privatization, & Local Level Education Reform in China: Using Education Voucher in Changxing County as Example

Does Father Know Best? Exploring Parental Choice among Low Cost Private Schools in Thiaryoe Sur Mer, Senegal


 
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